Ruminations on a Graduation Day

Today I get my Masters degree in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. It’s been a quick but rigorous two year program, and for the most part totally worth my time. This is my third graduation in seven years (the others being high school and Wheaton College), and I have to say that I love putting on that cap and gown every time (and this go ‘round I get a special hood!). There’s something nice about inserting yourself—even for just a few hours—into the centuries-old lineage of academic decorum that is represented in the four-point hat and gown regalia.

So, on this special occasion—after two years of countless stressful days and nights of studying, teaching, reading, and writing—what do I have to say about my experience? Here are a few scatterbrained thoughts:

• Learning never gets old, but college definitely can. After six years of being a college student, I’m ready to take a break. I’m ready to not have homework or mountains of books to read on nights and weekends. I’ll still read books constantly (one should never stop), but I might throw in some fiction or poetry instead of 24/7 theory/history/philosophy.

• Big universities are increasingly run like corporations. Learning is only the means to (and occasional byproduct of) a lucrative economic end. It’s a site of economic bonanza: research funding, technology development, cheap labor, captivated consumer audiences with lots of their parents’ money… And everything is so very expensive!

• Grad students in the humanities almost always regress as writers the longer they stay in grad school. You see, there is this thing called “academic writing” that ruins any inclination one might have for good writing. It requires the usage of meaningless verbs like “problematize,” “privilege,” “complicate,” “destabilize,” and a million words to make rich white protestant men sound legitimately evil (“heteronormativity,” “hegemony,” “patriarchal,” etc). In general, people in grad school (humanities) communicate in ever more abstract language about ever less germane issues.

• Graduate school seems to be more and more about hyperspecialization. There is little interest in broad-based knowledge or cross-discipline intersections anymore. People are encouraged to pick a thing to focus on, to become an “expert” in, and that is that. Connecting to or caring about what others are studying, researching, or writing about is increasingly a rarity (sadly). Everyone does their own thing.

• Lest this all sound super negative, I will say this: my experience in grad school definitely taught me a ton. I gained so much knowledge in such a short amount of time. I feel like my knowledge of film and media (theory, history, criticism, etc) has at least quadrupled in the time I’ve been here, and that will certainly prove valuable to me as a writer and critic.

• Some people ask me if studying film academically (and as a critic) leaves me unable to really enjoy film in the awestruck, child-like sense. In my experience, no it does not. In fact, I can honestly say that I love and appreciate cinema more than ever now—having studied and lived among it in Los Angeles for 2+ years. Also, I have come to appreciate television as an art form way more than I did prior to coming here. In fact, I would say that increasingly I am finding television to be the site of the most interesting and creative output Hollywood has to offer.

Okay, so it may sound like a mixed bag, but I’d truly recommend graduate school to any who might be interested. It’s good for the mind, and challenging (for those who like challenges). It’s also a great place to question things (for those who like questioning), and to discover both the limits and potentials of human inquiry. There were a few moments over the past two years when I felt my mind spinning so hard that I thought I might lose it. Those were great times. Those “teetering on the edge of madness” moments tended to be the most illuminating, and I hope I continue to have them, even as a lay academic.